No let up for Breakers during holiday period
For most of us the looming festive season is a time to start thinking about going on holiday. For the NZ Breakers the focus is very much on going to work.
Five of the Breakers' next six Australian NBL games are on the road and four of them fall in that late December-early January holiday period when it can be extremely difficulty to keep your eye on the ball if you're a professional sportsperson.
Breakers veteran CJ Bruton understands the distractions that are about to come into play as his team looks to consolidate a mostly satisfying first couple of months of the new season.
He's been through them countless times during his 15 years in this league. And he's reached a pretty important conclusion about the seriousness of the silly season.
At 8-2, the Breakers are back in a familiar position at the top of the ANBL standings. They are where they need to be, and starting to play the sort of basketball that suggests the title threepeat is well and truly on.
But Bruton understands the importance of the next five rounds when his team faces its toughest stretch of games thus far.
This Saturday they're away to the Sydney Kings, then they return home for their Christmas celebration clash against the Cairns Taipans at Vector Arena on December 13.
Following a short break for the All-Star game and associated festivities in Adelaide (where there will be significant Breakers involvement) the league's back-to-back champs play four straight games on the road - at Adelaide (Dec 28), Cairns (Dec 31), Wollongong (Jan 5) and Townsville (Jan 11).
"It can be tough," said Bruton of a period where distractions are their most heightened. "But we've got a lot of veterans who have been through this before.
"This is the time when some people go to sleep, when teams like Melbourne and Townsville down at the bottom struggle to find wins. It's when some clubs, if they're not careful, go on Christmas holiday.
"It's also a time when we can come together and push away from the pack. We know where we are in the top half and we've consolidated a spot already. It's a month where if you put in the work you can set your season up perfectly."
Win four, five or even six of these next half-dozen games and the Breakers can position themselves spledidly for a third straight minor premiership - and that all-important home advantage at finals time.
But let minds wander to beaches, barbies and bikinis and it can just as easily unravel.
Working in the Breakers' favour is that they've become a very good road team. Even a great one. They are the only club in the league to have compiled winning away records over the last two seasons, prevailing in 19 of 28 games across the ditch.
They have a formula that usually works and a belief that they can win in hostile arenas. But, as always, it takes a concentrated effort, and equal parts discipline and determination.
Bruton remains confident that the North Shore-based club can again prosper this festive season. As well as they've played thus far - with the exception of the two resounding defeats to Perth - they still have a ton of upside.
Bruton himself has yet to find the groove we all know that's still in his repertoire, while Tom Abercrombie, Mika Vukona and Alex Pledger all have a higher level to go to. The bench unit is also starting to find that spark it needs to provide.
"We've got a lot of upside," added Bruton. "That's the good thing about this team - we have a lot of people capable of contributing. We're going to spend a long time over the holiday period on the road, but with everyone healthy and everyone practising I don't see why we can't get even better."
Power forward Dillon Boucher said he felt like the Breakers made a serious statement with their 30-point demolition of the Melbourne Tigers on Friday night.
"We needed to prove we are still a team to be reckoned with in this league, and we wanted to come out and show that," said the 36-year-old who had six boards and four assists in just 14 minutes against the Tigers.
"The Tigers are struggling with their chemistry, but they looked bad in this game because of our defence. That really inspired our offence. We put 94 points on the board but it was spearheaded by our defence."
That defence will again be crucial if the Breakers are to secure a positive return from this run of road games.
The first thing you look to do when you go into somebody else's house is take the crowd out of the equation. The best way to do that is to put the squeeze on with your defence. Fans go very quiet when their teams aren't scoring the basketball.